What Is It? | Social Work | SIU

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What Is It?


What Is Their Training?

School social workers are graduates of accredited school of social work and serve as a vital part of the educational team. They work together with educational administrators, teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, speech and language pathologists, and other staff. Their unique graduate level training in social work enables them to understand and interpret the influences of school, home, and community on children.

What Is Their Purpose?

School social workers help to identify, to assess, and to resolve the educational, environmental, social, and emotional difficulties that interfere with children's attendance, adjustment, and achievement at school. Their fundamental purpose is to help pupils gain the most from their educational opportunities. This requires them to help not only the children, but it requires that they work with parents, school staff, and community elements to help all parties to work together more effectively for the good of children.

How Do School Social Workers Help?

They help students:

  • cope with stress and crises
  • understand themselves and others
  • be confident
  • develop decision-making skills 
  • be responsible
  • improve interpersonal relationships
  • develop social skills
  • make the most of their educational opportunities 
  • They help parents:
  • participate effectively in their child's education 
  • understand parent's rights so they can advocate for their child 
  • learn more about their child's behavior and normal development
  • to understand the purpose and resources of the school 
  • understand what programs are available for students with special needs
  • utilize school and community resources effectively
  • do all they can to help their child succeed 

They help schools:

  • provide programs to meet the needs of children and families 
  • understand factors (cultural, societal, economic, familial, health, emotional, etc.) that effect students' abilities to make maximum use of their school experience and opportunities
  • understand the concerns of parents and students
  • promote a safe school environment 
  • develop positive behavior intervention procedures
  • utilize their resources to meet the social and emotional needs of students
  • make school a pleasant and satisfying place for all persons: students, parents, faculty, and other staff 

They help communities:

  • understand school policies, programs, and procedures
  • minimize the environmental factors that inhibit learning
  • develop resources to adequately meet the needs of students and families coordinate services to children and families


Which Students May Require School Social Work Services?

Students may be referred to the school social worker by a variety of individuals: teachers, administrators, parents, peers, by themselves, or by the social worker through routine observation or through formal screening procedures. The referral for intervention is commonly due to signs of social or emotional difficulties that are interfering with the child's adjustment and achievement at school.

Some of the things that may trigger a referral include:

  • a child appears to have no friends
  • a child is frequently late to school or absent
  • a child does not respect the rights of others 
  • a child fails to complete the required school work 
  • a child does not seem to care about personal appearance or behavior
  • a child is excessively quiet, shy, or withdrawn 
  • a child is aggressive or impulsive 
  • a child regularly complains about not feeling well 
  • a child demands excessive attention and concern 
  • a child appears neglected or abused 
  • a child appears chronically unhappy, sad, or angry 
  • a child regularly does things to disrupt class or other school activities 
  • a child does not seem to work up to his/her ability level 
  • a child is frequently restless, agitated, moody, or has unusual mannerisms 
  • a child repeatedly lies, cheats, or steals
What Do School Social Workers Do?

School social workers may work primarily with children in the regular education classrooms, within the special education programs, or a combination of both. If they work primarily in the context of special education, they may spend the majority of the time conducting social developmental studies as part of a full case study evaluation and/or counseling students who have Individual Educational Plans (IEP). The social developmental study consists of gathering information using multiple methodologies and multiple sources of information so the various factors that may impact a child's learning and/or behavior can be better understood by the IEP team. This frequently involves interviews with students, parents, teachers, and community resources. Besides using interviewing skills, the social worker gathers information through observation, review of existing records, and using various assessment instruments to determine the degree to which children display adaptive and/or maladaptive behavior.

For school social workers in the regular/general education system, they may also spend a significant portion of time meeting individual student needs through counseling "at-risk" students, but they also are involved with other forms of system-wide prevention efforts, such as the development of peer mediation programs, conducting character education sessions to entire classrooms, encouraging positive behavior intervention systems, and providing leadership in developing student/teacher assistance programs. They are frequently consulting with community resources to help meet student and family needs, and meeting with parents to serve as the liaison between the school and the home.

(Portions adapted from publicity materials provided by the Illinois Association of School Social Workers and the Midwest School Social Work Association.)